XI'AN, China

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Xian (西安 Xī'ān, pron. SEE-ahn), is a historic city in Shaanxi Province in China.

Understand

Xi’an is more than 3,000 years old and was known as Chang’an (长安) in ancient times. For 1,000 years, the city was the capital for 13 dynasties, and a total of 73 emperors ruled here. Xi’an is the undisputed root of Chinese civilization having served as the capital city for the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang dynasties. With so much history within the ground the city lies upon, it is no wonder that there are so many historical ruins, museums and cultural relics to be found here. It was already influencing the world outside of the Great Wall of China as the eastern terminus of the Silk Road(丝绸之路). Here traders from far and wide brought goods and ideas for sale and took goods and ideas back with them to their native countries. In present day Xi’an not much of its former glory remains within the city confines, due to the constant warfare and political changes that swept China particularly throughout the 20th Century. Today the city has a pleasant cosmopolitan flair to it and it is worth visiting for the famed Terracotta Warriors alone. It has often been said that, “if you have not been to Xi’an, you have not been to China!”

Climate

Xi’an has most of its annual precipitation from August to late October in the form of rain. It is characterised by hot summers and cold, dry winters. Spring and autumn will be somewhat brief and dry.

Get in

By plane

Xi’an Xianyang International Airport (IATA: XIY) is located 40 km (25 mi) northwest of the city centre, in Xianyang. Flights are available to Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dunhuang, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Harbin, Hangzhou, Hohhot, Kunming, Lhasa, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Urumqi, Wuhan, Xiamen, Xining and Zhangjiajie within Mainland China. International flights are available to Helsinki, San Francisco, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Seoul, Singapore as well as Nagoya, Fukuoka, Niigata, Tokyo and Hiroshima in Japan. As Xi’an is located in the heartland of China, it takes no more than 2 hours to fly to most major Chinese cities.

The airport has three terminals. Terminal 2 and 3 are for domestic flights. The international flights depart from the terminal 2 near terminal 3.

Most people use taxis or the airport bus to reach town from the airport, however taking a taxi is not recommended, as most taxi drivers will raise the price for non-local tourists. A taxi will cost about ¥150 from the airport to the Bell Tower downtown. You will pay around ¥ 50-75 more if you take one of the climatized Japanese-branded black taxis rather than the typical green taxis. At the airport, both types of taxis are waiting at the same spot to pick up passengers. The airport buses leaves traveling one of 6 routes, each every half-hour from 06:00 to 18:00. A ticket (which needs to be purchased beforehand at the counter inside the arrival terminal) costs ¥26 and the trip takes at least one hour; there are several lines but the most useful are Airport Bus No. 2 (to the railway station in front of Jiefang Hotel 解放饭店) and No. 1 (which used to run to the Bell Tower, but buses no longer run this centrally in the old town; of the two lines that run inside, one stops near the West Gate and the other near the East Gate). As long as there is an arriving flight, there will be a bus, so don’t worry about arriving late at night or early morning; officially, on line 1 there is a bus every 20 minutes but buses will often depart as soon as they fill up. The airport bus route is the best way between city and the train station (where a veritable fleet of buses leave constantly to take tourists and locals to the Terracotta Warriors, among other places).

If you’re a spur-of-the-moment traveller expecting to find enterprising, helpful people to greet you with options in English, you may be disappointed. Especially outside of high season, there are surprisingly few such freelancers. It’s a good idea to book a tour in advance if you want to get off of any but the most-beaten paths. Many tours will extend an airport pickup at a discounted cost (or, in some cases, at no cost). If you want to take a taxi to the Terracotta Warriors, for example, it may cost as much as ¥200 from the airport, and, with few drivers speaking English, the phrase Bing Ma Yong (Mandarin for “Terracotta Warriors”) will come in quite handy.

By fast train

The high speed train from Xi’an North Station to Luoyang-Longmen is now available many times a day, starting from 07:00. The distance of 400 km (250 mi) takes about 90 minutes. The high speed train station is located about 10 km (6 mi) north from the Xi’an north gate (do not get it mixed up with the Xi’an North gate train station). The last train returns around 19:00. Schedules may change, so it is best to check it out at the station or website. Use the cheap and highly efficient subway to get to and from Xi’An central (¥3 as of September 2014, takes about 30 min).

By train

There are plenty of trains transporting passengers to and from most of the major cities inside China. Keep in mind during national holidays and peak travel periods, train tickets may available only if booked in advance (most ticket sales open 10-21 days in advance). Traveling in a seat (hard or soft-class) likely means a bargain price but may be accompanied by smokers, loud noise, and activity in the aisle while you try to sleep. Do not travel hard class if you are uncomfortable with these settings. Sleeper cabins are limited to 6 people each (4 for deluxe soft sleepers, which are typically only found on the trains originating from Beijing). If traveling alone, keep an eye on your luggage and practice common sense. Also note it’s customary for bathrooms to close 30-60 minutes before getting to the final destination of that route.

Trains run to several domestic cities including: Beijing (5-13 hours), Chengdu (13-18 hours), Chongqing (14 hours), Guangzhou (8–24 hours), Kunming (36-53 hours), Lanzhou (8-10 hours), Lhasa (36 hours), Shanghai (11-20 hours), Urumqi (31-56 hours), Wuhan (4-18 hours), and Zhengzhou (2–6 hours).

Xi’an Station is at the north end of Jiefang Road (解放路; pinyin: jiěfànglù), just outside the northeast city wall. As you exit, there will probably be lots of people offering cheap hotel rooms; just ignore them if you already have a room booked. Even if you don’t, you probably don’t want to get one from them anyway. Also, don’t fall for the people who offer to exchange a Xi’an map for your used train ticket – they reuse them for some shady purposes, e.g. re-selling them to people who just want to get into the station or try to sneak on a train.

In Xi’an, it is very easy to get to the railway station by city bus from anywhere in the city. There are several stops within 200 m of the station (look for train station East or North on a bus route (火车站东/北). Bus 603 will take you into the city for only ¥1. Many hostels also offer free pick-up if you arrive between 06:00 and 09:00.

Xi’an North Station serves the high-speed rail. It is connected by the metro system. Destinations include Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Shijiazhuang, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Changsha, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. If you want to take a taxi from the North Station, note that when you exit the station for the taxi stand, you will be greeted by a crowd of eager private drivers offering fake taxi rides. Ignore them and continue walking down the corridor until you reach the outside doors. The official taxis will be waiting for you.

Xi’an South Station is a very remote railway station. The easiest way is to go to the southern-most stop on the subway, and then taking a taxi. Note however that even taxi drivers have a hard time finding this one. However, trains from this station will not sell out as fast, which might make this station the only one available for you. There are over-night trains to Pingyao and Taiyuan from here (leaving at around 17:00, and about 11-12h travel time) and also trains to far away locations such as Urumqi (38½ hours), Hohhot (15 hours), Kunming (32 hours), Guangzhou (24½ hours) and Chongqing (10 hours).

By bus

The main long-distance bus station – Shaanxi Province Long-distance Bus Station is located approximately 100m south to the exit or entry to Xi’an railway station, immediately after you cross the city wall.

Bus service is available to: Huashan (2-3 hours), Lanzhou (8-10 hours), Luoyang (5-7 hours), Pingyao (7-8 hours), Taiyuan (12 hours), and Zhengzhou (9-12 hours).

If you are arriving from Pingyao by bus, you will most likely arrive at the east bus station. Catch the bus 203 right next to the bus station to get to the city centre.

By car

Traffic is heavy, right of way is unheard of, and the rule of thumb is “keep going no matter what” (although drivers do note red lights).

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